are you making your messages effective by making them ‘sticky’?

[Modified from a post I did on my internal blog at work on 5/4/2010.]

I recently read ‘Made to Stick‘ by Chip Heath and Dan Heath which examines the elements that make some ideas stick in our minds for ages, while others die off almost as soon as we are exposed to them.  The premise of the book is that making an idea ‘sticky’ requires the use of one or more of the following six factors:

  1. Simplicity
  2. Unexpectedness
  3. Concreteness
  4. Credibility
  5. Emotion
  6. Stories

Two of these factors resonated with me:

The authors talk about what they call ‘The Curse of Knowledge’, when a speaker knows infinitely more about his topic than his audience and therefore forgets that his audience doesn’t have the same level of understanding.  This causes a disconnect between his message and the audience because his assumptions are wrong.  As a business analyst, I often catch myself doing this when dealing with the business and I have to force myself to step back and get back into their shoes and simplify what I am saying.

Simplifying without ‘dumbing down’ though – that’s the trick.  And we do so by knowing and exploiting the ‘core’ of our idea.

Ideas exist in a large marketplace of other ideas competing for the attention of your audience and one of the ways in which you can make your idea stick is by going against the grain of people’s expectations.  The authors tell the story of a flight attendant who makes the following safety announcement at the beginning of a flight:

If I could get your attention for a few moments, we sure would love to point out these safety features. If you haven’t been in an automobile since 1965, the proper way to fasten your seat belt is to slide the flat end into the buckle. To unfasten, lift up on the buckle and it will release.

And as the song goes, there might be fifty ways to leave your lover, but there are only six ways to leave this aircraft: two forward exit doors, two over-wing removeable window exits, and two aft exit doors. The location of each exit is clearly marked with signs overhead, as well as red and white disco lights along the floor of the aisle.

Made ya look!

When was the last time you actually paid attention to what the flight attendant was saying at the beginning of the flight?  I bet you would have paid attention in this instance!  So the flight attendant was successful in capturing the passengers’ attention because she moved away from the normal script (while still keeping all the key safety information) and injecting humor.

There isn’t an obvious opportunity to be unexpected at the moment, but I will be looking out for it.

Applying to Work
For my day job, I work in Banking IT.  Banking is inherently an industry of ideas – we don’t make any widgets.  A stock is an idea, a derivative is an abstraction … and so on and so on.

Outside of the hardware component, IT is primarily a profession of ideas.

So at work I deal with ideas about ideas and abstractions.  So to be trully successful, I really need to be more sticky!

How about you?